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Los Gatos Mayor, Vice Mayor Selection Stirs Controversy

Meeting on Nov. 21 will decide who will be town's next mayor and vice mayor.

Los Gatos Vice Mayor Steve Rice is facing harsh criticism from some community members and fellow council members upset that he's openly stated he intends to bypass Councilwoman Barbara Spector for the body's second-in-command position when he becomes the town's nominal head next Monday.

On Nov. 21, the Los Gatos Town Council, under the leadership of current Los Gatos Mayor Joe Pirzynski, will consider Rice's sure nomination for the mayor's job and his vice mayoral nomination, which some speculate will not be Spector based on statements Rice has made to Spector herself and the

Community advocate Jonathan Knowles wrote to this publication this week and said: "I agree that to bypass Barbara Spector is unconscionable. I believe others in our community who share this perspective should contact Council member Steve Rice and share their view."

For critics of Rice's possible nomination of Diane McNutt as the vice mayor, the bothersome point is that she was selected mayor in 2009 and the appointment guarantees she'll be mayor in 2013 and then she'll pick Pirzynski as vice mayor, who will then serve as mayor again in 2014.

"They'll just be rotating among the three of them and I don't really believe that's what the voters want. The voters who voted for Barbara and voted for me want to see us in there," said junior . "We'll get skipped for no good reason ... when they just all had their turns."

Whatever happens Monday evening remains to be seen, but count on the majority vote of the normally well-behaved council to decide who will be mayor and vice mayor.

Other town government observers indicate Spector, a respected attorney who works for the San Jose law firm of Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel, deserves the nomination and the vice mayor's job. She served for eight years on the Los Gatos Planning Commission and she's serving her second four-year term as a council member. Spector plans to run again for another four-year term, which will end up being a total of 20 years of public service. Same goes for Pirzynski who will end up serving 20 years between the Planning Commission and the Council if he runs again. 

The Council has no term limits.

Town Policy

According to town policy, serving as mayor and vice mayor is considered a privilege, not a right.

The mayor and vice mayor serve at the pleasure of the Council and may be replaced at any time by a majority vote, the policy states. At the time of selection, "any member of the Council may be nominated to serve as mayor or vice mayor."

The policy further states that "individuals who are elected to serve as mayor and vice mayor are chosen because of their ability to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of these positions, establish a collegial working relationship with the Council, an ultimately, serve the community."

Spector herself conceded that, technically, any Council member could nominate anyone for mayor and vice mayor. However, she said, in the history of Los Gatos, never have two council members been passed over for vice mayor.

She further explained that traditionally the current mayor nominates the current vice mayor to be mayor. One of the other four Council members seconds the nomination and then they vote. Three votes are needed to become mayor. In the past, all five Council members say yes and continue with the agenda.

"In this case, not only was I passed over, I would have been the next one who would have been up and Steve Leonardis would have been next. This will be the first time that that has happened," Spector noted.

In the recent past, the only two council members passed over for vice mayor were officials involved in wrongdoing against the council, she said. "That's not me and it's not Steven Leonardis," Spector said. "As I told Steve Rice, I was disappointed that he was not going to nominate me because I think it's an honor ... I thought it was unfortunate because it does create bad feelings and bad feelings make it that much harder to work together."

Much to Do About a Ceremonial Position

No special privileges come with the vice mayor's position. All five council members have the same voting power. But ceremonially speaking, or the unspoken agreement, it's Spector's turn to serve as vice mayor, Leonardis said.

Pirzynski said Rice’s critics are misunderstanding the policy. "It's something that may be confusing to some people, but from my perspective ... this is the process ... up until Monday the decision is open."

The mayor said the vice mayoral selection has never received so much attention in the past. "There's an assumption that the sitting vice mayor will be the most likely candidate to be nominated for mayor, that's why we're having the discussion about Steve Rice, but from the perspective of who might be the vice mayor, I don't recall any time in my 10 years on the council that that was a significant issue. People are always interested in the mayor. The mayor will take the center seat and conduct the council meetings and represent the community for the next year.

"That, to me, if where the focus needs to be," Pirzynski said. "I'm a little upset that this has taken this public turn ... it's something that will work itself out through the process of deliberations and recommendations and eventual council decisions."

Is the Council Split?

"No," said Leonardis, recounting how the body has only recently voted 3-2 on important issues such as the and the . On those issues, Spector and Leonardis cast dissenting votes, while Pirzynski, Rice and McNutt voted in favor.

Spector agreed with Leonardis saying that more than 90 percent of the time, council decisions are unanimous.

She said she didn't know if Rice's expected decision Monday to bypass her would divide the council. "I don't know what's going to happen should it all occur," she said.

Pirzynski said the council has always worked well together regardless of who was serving as mayor or vice mayor.

For his part, Rice, who's been in the hot seat since the controversy started, said: "I don't have anything to say at this point."

He added: "There are a lot of people in town that have different perspectives."

Sandra Vaurs November 17, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Dirty politics is what is going on here. Rice should know better. Elections are always a good way to rid bad eggs.
Tim Boyd November 17, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Thank you Jonathan for your note. In addition to writing to Councilman Rice, I encourage everyone to write to Coucilwoman McNutt. Both council members should see the error in what is predicted to occur on Monday. Councilman Rice should not propose Councilwoman McNutt for Vice Mayor and if he does, Councilwoman McNutt should do what is right for the town and decline his offer. I think all of the council members ran with the best intentions, but when issues like this come up it serves a terrible message to the voters and more importantly the children of the town.
Jonathan Knowles November 17, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Steve Rice is certainly a man of conviction. He and his family have served our community for many years ( his grandfather, John Lincoln, served on the Town Council and as Mayor in the 1960’s). Should Steve Rice run for another term, I will enthusiastically support his campaign. We won't know what Vice Mayor Rice will do until next Monday. While I hope and believe he should nominate council member Barbara Spector, I support his right and duty to make this decision.
Brad Hayden November 17, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Okay, don't make me turn this town council around because I will! According to the rules I read, Rice can nominate anyone he wants. This is what happens when these types of decisions are left to the Governing bodies. Why not be like everyone else and make the Mayor and Vice Mayor positions on the ballot? That would stop all the petty bickering. And these are grown adults. What does this say to our young people when our own politicians spend their time squabbling over non - issues?
Kelly L. November 18, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Let me add that my issue ties to who is voting for what. I see a connection between this and the recent voting history on projects. I agree that we have bigger problems than squabbling over this. I believe they should continue giving each council their turn and not play favorites.
Mckenna Smith November 18, 2011 at 01:33 AM
I wonder if Mr. Rice is being used, or pressured to select Ms. McNutt? I love all five council members. They're really cool people. I think it would be awesome to see Mr. Rice build consensus. Obviously Mr. Rice and Ms. Spector don't get along as well as Mr. Rice and Ms. McNutt, but wouldn't it be nice if Mr. Rice and Ms. Spector did some cool things together for our town this coming year? Maybe I'm an idealist. I say Mr. Rice should try to become Ms. Spector's best friend and let her serve as vice mayor. It's good to let all councilors have a chance at being in these top positions, IMHO!
Larry Arzie November 18, 2011 at 02:49 AM
By selecting McNutt as vice mayor she will automatically become mayor the following year. Then she will select Prizynski for vice mayor and he will become mayor AGAIN. This daisy chain will allow the threesum to control the adgenda, limit council discussion, and community imput. If Rice selects McNutt as vice mayor instead of following tradition then this gang of 3 will control the process through the development of the N.40 and god knows we don't need more housing, and an overbuilt NEW COMMUNITY at the edge of town. Playing politics in our small Town is not worthy of the people we put our faith in. This is not a game it is our town. Trying to stack the deck is dirty politics.
Lara Allen Fabans November 18, 2011 at 03:01 AM
This is inappropriate and the council should follow the best practices from the past. When Rice becomes mayor, Spector should become Vice Mayor. The system worked well in the past and should be continued.
Thomas Mangano November 18, 2011 at 03:38 AM
Howdy Doody and Pinnocchio were real neat puppets when I was a kid! Really don’t want a puppet for a mayor however! Training wheels were helpful when I was learning to ride a bicycle, but it didn’t take me three years to learn how! Next Monday we’ll see if we have a puppet for a mayor or a thinking human. Come on Vice Mayor Rice cut the strings and wires of your puppeteers, and find your own voice. That is what I look for in a mayor! Fire your writer Ms. McNutt , who is just nominating herself and do the right thing and nominate Ms. Spector.
James George November 18, 2011 at 05:58 AM
This kind of dirty politics doesn't speak well for Mr. Rice or Ms. McNutt.
P. Blake November 18, 2011 at 06:10 AM
Rice, McNutt and Prizynski have voted for issues that are detrimental to Los Gatos recently. They have made numerous bad decisions with serious long term consequences. The three of them need to go!
mike ross November 19, 2011 at 03:12 AM
It's Rice's turn to be Mayor, he has earned it. He should be able to choose Ms. McNutt for Vice-Mayor if he believes she is the person who can help him the most for his year as Mayor
Terry McBriarty November 19, 2011 at 08:56 AM
We are all clearly wasting our time attending town council meetings and sharing our feelings about projects when the votes are always the same. The decisions seem to have been made before we open our mouths. I fear too much damage can be done prior to the next election. Recall. We need to turn the tide against all this ridiculous development at breakneck speed. Whose interest is being served? Not the towns. Not our children's. Whose? Who is being served by what is going on? I don't feel that I am being served as a constituent, I don't believe I am being heard and I am beginning to think something doesn't smell quite right.
Alastair Dallas November 19, 2011 at 04:24 PM
The council selects its own mayor and vice-mayor. Certain traditions have attached themselves to the ritual, but it was not long ago that the council re-elected the same mayor year after year. If the citizens have a vote--which we do not--I, for one, would not vote for a rigid rotation system that predetermines who will be mayor two years from now. If the vice mayor doesn't automatically become mayor, we could have the inestimable Steve Leonardis as our mayor in 2013 no matter who is chosen this Monday--that would be a good thing, in my opinion.

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